“Supporting the Troops,” everyone.

The Los Angeles Times ran a piece over the weekend revealing efforts by the California National Guard to claw back reenlistment bonuses and student loan payments from 9,700 soldiers it has determined were ineligible for these incentives. According to California Guard official Col. Michael S. Piazzoni, “The system paid everybody up front, and then we spent the next five years figuring out if they were eligible.”

“‘No, no!’ said the Queen. ‘Sentence first—verdict afterwards.'”

“‘Stuff and nonsense,’ said Alice Iris loudly.”

We are not talking about chump change here, either. Ten years ago, the Pentagon was offering guard members signing bonuses of $15,000 for six-year reenlistments. With penalties and interest now tacked on, these soldiers are suddenly and unexpectedly finding themselves close to $20k in debt. Student loans can run up the total at least as high as $46,000. Thousands of men and women are remortgaging their homes or taking huge hits via wage garnishment to pay it back. Some, though, are refusing.

Robert Richmond, an Army sergeant first class then living in Huntington Beach, said he reenlisted after being told he qualified for a $15,000 bonus as a special forces soldier.

The money gave him “breathing room,” said Richmond, who had gone through a divorce after a deployment to Afghanistan in 2002 and 2003.

In 2007, his special forces company was sent to the Iraqi town of Hillah, 60 miles south of Baghdad in an area known as the “Triangle of Death” because of the intense fighting.

Richmond conducted hundreds of missions against insurgents over the next year. In one, a roadside bomb exploded by his vehicle, knocking him out and leaving him with permanent back and brain injuries.

He was stunned to receive a letter from California Guard headquarters in 2014 telling him to repay the $15,000 and warning he faced “debt collection action” if he failed to comply.

Richmond should not have received the money, they argued, because he already had served 20 years in the Army in 2006, making him ineligible.

Richmond, 48, has refused to repay the bonus. He says he only had served 15 years when he reenlisted, due to several breaks in his Army service.

He has filed appeal after appeal, even after receiving a collection letter from the Treasury Department in March warning that his “unpaid delinquent debt” had risen to $19,694.62 including interest and penalties.

After quitting the California Guard so the money wouldn’t be taken from his paycheck, he moved to Nebraska to work as a railroad conductor, but was laid off.

He then moved to Texas to work for a construction company, leaving his wife and children in Nebraska. With $15,000 debt on his credit report, he has been unable to qualify for a home loan.

“I signed a contract that I literally risked my life to fulfill,” Richmond said bitterly. “We want somebody in the government, anybody, to say this is wrong and we’ll stop going after this money.”

Of course all of this is particularly galling in light of this fact:


The United States spends more on defense than the next seven countries combined. (2015 data.)

This perversity is compounded by the Pentagon simply losing track of $8.5 trillion, with virtually no one in government or media showing the slightest interest in getting an accounting for any of it. Why, if I were a rational cynical person, I might even believe that the deep state—i.e., America’s Owners and the permanent power factions in D.C.—had some kind of a vested interest in a font of taxpayer money endlessly gushing forth without any accountability whatsoever! It’s not like EIGHT POINT FIVE TRILLION DOLLARS would go a long way toward resolving conflicts and bettering human conditions here and around the globe without bloodshed or anything.

I have written about the plight of US veterans many times and won’t rehash that here—except to repeat this:

Regardless of what we may think of the U.S.’s endless wars and occupations, these men and women have made unfathomable sacrifices in an effort to do right by us, and they deserve all of the respect, care and support we can give them.

I stand by that. Despite all the flag-waving jingoism and war propaganda to which we are routinely subjected, our government does not.

Have a nice day.


  1. Siobhan says

    As with most conservative objections to liberal positions, they are points of talk and not points of action.

  2. applehead says

    In other countries, other time periods, fucking your soldiers over financially would have led to widespread mutiny, if not a government-toppling uprising. US history itself has examples of this.

    But ever since the 80s the advent of Reaganist “love it or leave it” hyperjingoism has brainwashed as many Americans as it can into being compliant little marionettes in eternal service of the status quo. Not even servicemembers themselves take action if they’re put through the meat grinder, out of blind loyalty to a nebulous, romanticized fiction called America.

  3. says

    It’s worse: the DoD is shifting increasingly toward expensive high-tech weapons systems, which means: more money for defense contractors, and outsourced automation – which means more money for defense contractors – but less money on troops and their welfare. That’s a big problem because the military has been one of the paths of upward mobility for a lot of poor people – it being (in principle, except for the officer corps, of course!) meritocratic, non-sexist, and non-racist. Wanna bet who’s getting squeezed?

  4. intransitive says

    Estimates for “overpayment” are as high as 6500 people and US$20000. If that were the amount received by every one of them, that would be US$130 million. Each new F-35 will cost the US military $116 million, and branches of the US military are buying dozens (if not hundreds) of a completely useless plane instead of building new and cheaper F-22s which would still suffice.

    The US government should be going after Lockheed Martin and the politicians who approved the F-35, not soldiers who actually did what they were being paid for and lived up to their end of the contract. Besides which, if those soldiers weren’t entitled to the money, why weren’t they told that when they applied for it? Because they wouldn’t have re-enlisted? Funny how a welfare application for $1000 gets far more scrutiny than a soldier’s application for $20000.